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Colorado Springs theater company addresses mental health in life-affirming new show | Arts & Entertainment

There is always a light side to the dark, and a dark side to the light.

Suicide and depression aren’t often painted with a lighthearted touch. But writer Duncan MacMillan found a way to do so in his work, “Every Brilliant Thing,” which began as a short story about growing up with a suicidal mother, who made her first attempt when MacMillan was 7. The piece made its way into the hands of British comedian Jonny Donahoe, who helped shape it into a one-person show. It premiered at a British fringe festival, came to New York City in 2015, and also was filmed for HBO.

It opens Friday at Theatreworks and runs through Dec. 19.

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“It’s a story about a human who is looking for things in life that keep us waking up every day,” said director Marisa Hebert. “Every single night at rehearsal I laugh, and I bring two masks because I cry through at least one of them.”

The 90-minute show follows a narrator (Rebecca Myers) from adolescence to adulthood as she makes a list of the reasons her depressed and suicidal mother should stay alive: ice cream, the color yellow, watching TV past your bedtime, roller coasters. As the show progresses, the list grows exponentially longer and more creative, and includes such niche joys as the possibility of dressing up as a Mexican wrestler.

“It is a show that offers so much to an audience: It does not feel like you are being asked to spend your money to hear a playwright saying, look, these are my issues and this is my reality, but, instead, it says to the audience, take a look at all the stuff you worry about and instead appreciate the pleasures of being alive,” wrote Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones in a 2019 review.

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Theatergoers expecting to sit quietly in a dark room watching a show, beware — audience participation is key to the success of “Every Brilliant Thing.” Some attendees will be given props and words to say throughout the show. Don’t let that scare you off, though. The process of either contributing or watching others do so can be life-affirming.

“This play is gentle in how it engages the audience,” said Theatreworks artistic director Caitlin Lowans. “There’s a lightness and joy that comes from that sharing and shared responsibility.”

To ward off performance cancellations due to potential positive COVID-19 tests, Colorado Springs actor Lynne Hastings also is on hand. She’ll star in three performances — Saturday and Dec. 11 and 16 — and others, should the need arise.

The show was originally planned to open before the pandemic, as suicide and depression are areas of concern in the Pikes Peak region, Lowans said. But with the return of live theater, it still felt like an appropriate offering, maybe even more so. Theatreworks also will have resources on hand for audience members who might need help working through darker elements the show could elicit.

“It’s definitely about resilience and finding hope,” Lowans said. “By opening up to others and being honest and talking about things gives people hope to live their lives differently. You don’t have to live in the shadow of difficult family situations.”

Contact the writer: 636-0270

Contact the writer: 636-0270

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